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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

I Have a Right to Express My Opinion

Sorry, but no, you don’t.  I’ll try to explain why that this often vehemently stated comment is unacceptable in a civilised society. We live in dangerous times, and words can be used as powerful weapons and should be used with care.

Witnessing first hand some of the very unpleasant bullying directed at one of the talented contestants on a popular television programme shocked me. There was one particularly unpleasant post, which was challenged by several people. As well as several expletives, the writer claimed that “I’ve got the right to express my opinion!” before his post was reported and subsequently blocked.

Yes, we all have a right to an opinion, but we don’t always have the right to express it, particularly if it is hurtful. We have been given the ability to think, reason and to express ourselves, but it doesn’t mean that we should, and particularly if it upsets, harms or damages other people. Lack of empathy, understanding and kindness towards others is ultimately destructive, and increasing numbers of young people, particularly, have been driven to acute depression and even suicide in recent months.

Personally, I find social media useful for keeping in contact with people that I would otherwise have lost contact with, but I am also aware of the poisonous and destructive nature of this relatively new approach to communication if used unwisely. Would the writer of the unpleasant and destructive posts that I referred to earlier have the courage to say these things to the contestant if they came face to face? I think not, I suspect he is too much of a coward, and is content to hide and express his venom behind a screen as a keyboard warrior. Also worrying is who knows what psychological and personality issues are lurking within this troubled man?

Expressing controversial opinions, and the right to do so, have dominated the news recently. Following the well-publicised Gary Lineker incident where the BBC subsequently published guidelines as to what comments key presenters may or may not make in social media posts, another presenter, Carol Vorderman decided that this was a step too far. She decided to resign from her role as a radio presenter rather to be ‘gagged’ in the negative comments that she wished to make about the current government. Many would agree with Carol Vorderman’s comments as a healthy commentary upon issues that cause serious public concern, whilst others vehemently disagree with her political views. I guess on whether the BBC decision is correct depends upon the issue of the day and one’s political views.

I still remember my mother’s often used reprimand whenever I crossed the boundary of what was acceptable or not. If I made a particularly sharp comment, or was being unkind, she would glare at me with her grey penetrating eyes, and I knew immediately that I had done something that was unacceptable to her.

“If you cannot say something pleasant, then don’t say it, Barrie,” she would declare sternly. If I argued against her reprimand, which I often would, she would order me to my bedroom. As I hurtled up the stairs to my bedroom, I would feel the thwack of mother’s stick on the back of my knees. She kept a leather bound, wooden stick at the bottom of the stairs for this very purpose. There was no Childline in those days; maybe it was a little harsh in today’s context, but effective and I don’t think it did me any harm, as I knew that her reprimand was based upon her unquestioning love for me.

I tend to agree with many of today’s commentators that social media has become more of a force for evil than good, which is a pity since it holds tremendous potential for good if a few basic rules are followed, the main one being “If you cannot say something pleasant (or at least not hurtful), then don’t say it.”

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

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